WHEN the Stranglers first got together in 1973, there were few who would have predicted they would still be tearing up stages around the world 40 years on - and on the back of critically acclaimed new studio album ‘Giants’, their first for six years, to boot.
Baz Warne joined the Stranglers in 2000, picking up the mantel of guitarist/vocalist from John Ellis, who had replaced founding member and former Bristol University student Hugh Cornwell after an acrimonious split.
When I spoke to Baz, he was back in the West Country, where the band are now based, having just returned from a month’s tour of Australia. Baz was preparing for the imminent arrival of fellow band mates – including 75-year-old drummer and founder member Jet Black – to start rehearsing for a 22-date UK tour, which includes a date in Bristol.
"People still think of me as the new boy," laughs Baz. "But really all that stopped for me after about six months. There is no time to dwell on the past and I had to get on and get my head down, with all that back catalogue to learn!"
And what a catalogue it is. The Stranglers have had 24 top 40 singles over four decades, as well as 18 top ten albums. Hits including Peaches, No More Heroes, Always the Sun, Golden Brown, Strange Little Girl and Skin Deep have always kept them in the public consciousness with constant radio play, as well a demanding tour schedule which has earned them a legion of loyal fans.
"I do like to communicate with the fans, whether through interview like this or on line through the website. It’s an important part of what we do," says Baz.
"Our recent album, Giants, was so well received, by fans and critics alike, and our attendance numbers reflect that."
"We are very comfortable with each other," says Baz. "Of course, we know it’s not going to last forever, but we tend to have a kind of ‘head in the sand’ attitude, and carry on regardless.
"There are always rumours that this will be the last tour, especially as Jet [Black] was unable to join us last year due to ill health. A couple of years ago it would have been unthinkable to have carried on without him, but you do what you must. Right now we are playing it by ear – you have to, when the drummer is 75! But at the moment Jet is chipper and fit, and I’m looking forward to the tour."
So would Baz still describe the band as ‘punk’?
"No. Of course there’s a real punk attitude and ethos; there had to be, coming up through the pubs like they did back then. But JJ was really the only one who you could call a punk. It’s different now, but it still kicks off when we play live."
"I do like playing the festivals," says Baz. "You are playing to thousands who are not necessarily your core fans and you’ve always got to try and impress.
"One of my favourites to play is Bacharach and David’s ‘Walk on By’, which is 7 or 8minutes long and allows me the chance to stretch out and let my hair blow in the wind (metaphorically of course!). I also enjoy playing Golden Brown, because of the solo. And of course we have to sprinkle a few classics in the mix – like Peaches and No More Heroes – because they are the songs that people recognise and want to hear."
So, what can we expect from the Bristol gig?
"Expect the unexpected!" laughs Baz. "With 17 albums to draw from we like to keep ourselves interested and fresh. It’s never less than exciting and it always kicks off!”
The Stranglers are Jet Black (drums), JJ Burnel (bass and lead vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Baz Warne (guitar and lead vocals). They play Bristol’s O2 Academy on Saturday, March 24.